Former commissioner Madison Woo leaves legacy of public service

Madison Woo is shown speaking to a crowd at a Richmond County recreation center in the 1970s.

Colleagues and family describe Madison Woo as a civic-minded family man with a legacy of public
service.

“There were a lot of people whose lives he touched and we’re grateful for that,” his daughter, Linda Bellamy, said Monday. “That’s the legacy he leaves to us.”

Woo, Richmond County’s first Asian-American district commissioner and a leader in creating new county parks, died Saturday after an extended illness. He was 82.

Born in Augusta to Chinese immigrants, Woo was raised in his parents’ grocery store in Laney-Walker neighborhood, near University Hospital. His Chinese heritage played a large part in his life and the traditional holiday celebrations, such as Chinese New Year, were passed on to his children.

That exposure remains a point of pride among his children and grandchildren, Bellamy said.

“Even as that aspect of our heritage is smaller (now), it’s no less important, she said.

Woo’s decision to run for office in 1970 initially surprised his family, but they accepted it as a natural progression of his community involvement. While serving on the commission, Woo was instrumental in drafting the first master plan for the county’s parks. He also served as a guiding hand behind the consolidation of the city and county recreation departments, decades before the major consolidation of the 1990s.

“It was his smooth, quiet leadership that kept feathers from getting ruffled,” said Tommy Boyles, who was assistant director of the county recreation department at the time.

Tom Beck, the former director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said Woo’s legacy was in the number of youth sports teams he sponsored.

“He knew that it was a good investment in the community,” Beck said. “That shows what a great man he was.”

Bellamy said that although her father had several enterprises – from his duties as commissioner to restaurants he operated – he paid attention to the task at hand.

“He’s always been on his own time clock,” Bellamy said. Though his children would criticize him for being slow, they later realized “he was the most patient person. Whatever he was doing, he was into it 100 percent.”

Woo is survived by his wife of 62 years, Lessie Jo Hillis Woo; three children; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 3 p.m. today in the chapel of Thomas Poteet and Sons. Visitation will take place an hour before.

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